That was ESPN's College Football frontpage as of Wednesday 11:40 am, a picture highlighting Pat Forde's weekly "40-yard dash" feature on College Football. First and foremost, this: Florida is number 1 in the BCS, AP, and Coaches poll. Alabama and LSU are gearing up for a massive battle on Saturday. And yet it's Tennessee on the front page. Actually, it's not even just Tennessee's uni's being on the front cover, it's the text accompanying it:
Mess With Your Uniform Month featured some misses. Urban Meyer just plain missed. But November has some games not to miss. The Dash passes judgment on it all.
Hold up, say it ain't so. ESPN thrashing Urban Meyer? The Golden Boy, Boy Wonder? Yep. Which all leads me to point at one thing: Lane Kiffin is winning at the SEC Football season, and that spells wonderful things for Tennessee's program. The link to the article can be found here, and I'd just like to comment a bit more on it.
First off, Florida Bashing: as flimsy as it might be, it somewhat excites me to see this approach taken on the Gators, for no other reason than the brutal dog-eat-dog world of the SEC. Bad publicity for Florida -- and enough people pay attention to ESPN to make this very big -- is a good thing for Tennessee. And Pat Forde didn't bother easing into the issue:
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (discounted suspensions -- half off! -- sold separately at Florida ):
Everyone who has seen the video of Gators linebacker Brandon "The Gouger" Spikes (2) going after the eyes of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey recognizes the truth. It was an appalling cheap shot, one of the worst things a football player can do to an opponent.
Look, I've said it a thousand times: I don't think that Brandon Spikes is a bad kid. I think that what he did was retaliation for something that happened before, and in football you are somewhat expected to play dirty if the other team is playing dirty and trying to hurt your boys. I'm not saying it's okay, I'm just saying I think Brandon Spikes is a football player, plain and simple. But still, as a UT fan who wants Florida to stumble so that Tennessee can catch up, this makes me happy. Yes, I'm a homer and a moron in some respects, but still ... I am glad that most of the ire of Forde was directed at Meyer, as you can see here:
Gators coach Urban Meyer (4) reviewed the video and used it as a teaching moment. The lesson Meyer delivered: Nothing, not even thuggish behavior, will be allowed to substantively interfere with our pursuit of a repeat national title. That was the unmistakable message sent by Meyer's semisuspension of Spikes, which will keep him off the field for roughly 30 first-half snaps against mighty Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Which, really, is the message a lot of people will get out of this, which is why I believed that Urban Meyer should have punished Brandon Spikes for the entire Vanderbilt game: saying "it always happens" suggests that you are allowing the behavior to happen. Saying "it always happens but that doesn't mean we're going to do it" says that you acknowledge what your player did was bad -- which it was, alright? Stop acting like eye-gouging is anything but bad, please, everyone -- but not that bad but still bad enough that he'll regret it more than, oh noes, a half off against Vanderbilt.
Spikes' action reminded The Dash of a moment from the 2006 Colonial Athletic Association basketball tournament. Namely, when George Mason guard Tony Skinn groin-punched Hofstra's Loren Stokes.
Going after a guy's eyes is more serious because of the potential damage. But the two acts are similarly classless.
Eleventh-seeded George Mason bit the bullet, did the right thing and suspended Skinn for its first game of the NCAA tournament against No. 6 seed Michigan State. The Patriots wound up going to the Final Four.
Florida suspended Spikes for half a game against the worst team in the Southeastern Conference. In a word: weak.
Florida fans will say a half-game suspension is fine. Some of them are saying that the action wasn't even bad, such as this guy on TSK who links a Georgia article from the RB who said
"I had my eyes closed," Ealey said. "He really didn’t gouge my eyes. …I was just trying to get up as fast as I can."
Apparently, Mr. Falcontom is mistaking intent with result: apparently because Spikes didn't cause harm that makes the event okay. Like I posted in the comment: What was he trying to do, if not damage him? I mean, just because he "didn’t reach my eyes" doesn’t mean the intent wasn’t there. That’d be like saying "Oh, he shot me, but the bullet missed so we’re cool." I think it’s more that football players in general do dirty stuff like this; it’s commonplace rather than the exception. But that doesn’t make it "okay" in my book. To quote the beginning of that fanpost:
I'm guessing I won't be receiving an apology any time soon from everyone who immediately assumed that Spikes was trying to permanently blind somebody out on the field. Keep on hating though, the Gators need the motivation to make it down the final stretch.
Yeah, you won't be, because despite Brandon's motives behind the act, despite the result -- or lack thereof -- of the act, it was still something Brandon Spikes appeared to be doing to hurt someone else. I can guarantee he wasn't trying to pinch Mr. Ealey's nose and whisper "Aww you're so cute in those black hats!" to him.
Edit: because I realized I wasn't done with my rant of this situation.
Look, saying that "everyone does it" isn't any excuse to be doing it. And honestly, saying that "the entire game was 'chippy'" isn't an excuse either, as far as I'm concerned. For the millionth time: I don't think Brandon Spikes is some current-generation ear-biter or anything; I think that this type of play is just something that goes by without notice. That doesn't mean that it's okay, you could severely hurt someone doing it. Is that what it's going to take for the NCAA to crack down stuff like this? Someone getting severely hurt? Can't they, you know, take the initiative on stuff like this? For that matter, isn't that what the NCAA was founded for? To protect student atheletes playing football? While I doubt anyone is going to die playing the sport, someone might very well get blinded if punishing this practice is whiffed on just because "everyone does it." Someone, anyone, needs to take a hard stance on this, because no football game is worth losing an eye over.
Also, in the "pointing fingers" mantra that this debate has turned into, Meyer is now in on the action.
"That should have been a penalty, in my opinion," Meyer said. "Obviously, it should have been. You've got to protect quarterbacks. That's the whole purpose. It's right in front of the referee. I'm not sure how they're going to handle that, but ... that was one of the plays we did send in."
Meyer didn't mention the play until asked about it Wednesday, possibly trying to avoid drawing punishment from the league. He also prefaced his comments by saying he has "great respect" for SEC officials and the way the league handles complaints.
Ah .. there's something stuck in my throat .. I think I need to cough .. yes .. *coughcoughcoughSUCKUPcoughHYPOCRITEcoughcoughcough* ... hmm .. sorry about that. But really, is Meyer going to be punished at all for that? That's pretty straightforwards: that's a public criticism of the refs? "Oh, but it wasn't public criticism of the refs!" I can hear some Florida fans moaning about now. Or "Well, he sent in the play too!" that one seems more likely, as anyone reading that quote should pretty well understand that he was calling out a ref. Does this sound familiar?
SEC Bylaw 10.5.4 clearly states that coaches, players and support personnel shall refrain from all public criticism of officials
It will be interesting to see how Slive doesn't punish Meyer for these statements, won't it?
But, there was more than just Florida-bashing in this article. Forde has this to say about Tennessee's jerseys:
And Saturday night, Tennessee (10) strutted some black jerseys with orange numbers against South Carolina. Dash reaction: Not quite as hideous as anticipated, but not exactly a look that evokes memories of Gen. Neyland, Johnny Majors, Reggie White and Peyton Manning. If the decidedly nontraditional Lane Kiffin thinks it would help him sign a recruit, the Volunteers would come running out through a cursive "T" before their next home game.
And really, that's it about Tennessee. That, apparently, justifies a nice and fancy front-page image, which I'm totally alright with. All that trash-talking of Lane Kiffin seems to be a long, long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Generally, public perception has favored Lane this season, beginning with the quirky and undeniably funny jabs at Urban Meyer and his flu; Lane's promise that UT won't lose to Georgia anymore -- right before his team went out and thrashed the Bulldogs; his comments and protests after the Alabama game (Slive: don't want coaches talking about officiating? Fix the problem, then!) and even his insistence in sticking up for JC. That move looks brilliant now, a month and more into the decision, doesn't it?